RENO, Nev. — By now Cory Joseph knows just about every bump in the road between San Antonio and Austin.
“I think I could probably drive it with my eyes closed,” he said.
That’s because the 6-foot-3 point guard guard has been driving laps between the Spurs the and NBA D-League Austin Toros for the better part of two seasons.
Joseph scored 21 points, dealt four assists and grabbed four rebounds for the Toros in a 96-78 win over Santa Cruz on Tuesday in an NBA D-League Showcase game where his team came from 18 points down at halftime.
“It just feels good to be on the court the whole game, get to make up for some early mistakes and see a game all the way to the finish,” he said. “It’s all about the minutes if you’re going to take your game up a level.”
Getting Joseph those minutes is the reason the Spurs have made the most of this year’s rule change that allows unlimited assignments for a player between the NBA and the D-League. By taking advantage of the Spurs’ schedule, he gets to practice frequently with the likes of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker and while getting significant playing time in Austin.
Since being drafted in 2011, he’s played only very limited minutes in 38 games in San Antonio, but has 11 games of running the point as a starter in Austin.
The Spurs were questioned by some for using the 29th pick in the draft on Joseph, a player many didn’t think was ready to make the jump to the NBA from the University of Texas.
But despite the presence of Parker, Patty Mills and Nando De Colo on the roster, the team continues to believe in what Joseph can do.
“He does things that win games,” coach Gregg Popovich said a few weeks ago. “Fifty-fifty balls, making a steal, getting a rebound, playing great (defense) — he’s always active. That’s his game.”
The 21-year-old admitted it was a blow at first last season when the Spurs told him he was being sent to the D-League.
“Of course, everybody who has an NBA contract wants to stay there and play for the team,” he said. “But when you have to look at the bigger picture. I realize that you can only control what you can control and maybe the opportunity is not there for me right now and so I’m gonna keep coming down here and keep working and the when the opportunity presents itself, I’m gonna make sure I’m ready. In the meantime, I think I’m earning my money in both places.”
While the workouts in San Antonio give him the chance to stay directly connected to Pop’s teaching, playing more than 35 minutes a game with the Toros is providing him the necessary experience to run an offense and develop leadership skills.
“It’s not all about trying to do so much in four or fives minutes of a game when I’m here in the D-League,” Joseph said. “I get to be on the floor, get a real feel for what’s happening and then make some adjustments.
“This league has some real talent. It gives me great competition, a place to improve and, really, I kinda think I’ve got the best of both worlds.”